John Chapter Five: Witnesses to Jesus

By: Deji Yesufu

In religious discussions between Christians and Muslims in our day, one piece of doctrine that Muslims would never admit to is the idea that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or that Jesus Christ is God. Besides the clear testimony of the Quran that teaches God has no son, nor is there any God besides the one true God, Muslims also cannot rationalize the concept of God having a biological son – as if the creator of the world could be married, or could know a woman. They also reject the concept of the trinity outrightly – considering it an accursed thing. The attitude of the Muslim towards Christ’s deity and Sonship, is the same attitude the Jews had towards Jesus during his earthly ministry. Except that there were two distinctions: the Jews had greater antagonism towards Christ; and Jesus provided more proofs of his deity to the Jews than we can ever provide Muslims. It is these proofs, these witnesses, that John chapter five talks to us about.

John chapter five opens with a picture of a number of sick people strewn all around a pool at Bethesda. Legend had it that an angel usually comes to stir the waters and that any sick person who steps in after this event will be healed perfectly. Now, by the side of that pool, a certain man laid there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. He was so bed ridden there was no chance of him stepping into the waters early enough – yet he hoped against hope that one day it would be his turn. That day God remembered this man and the Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, came to him directly and asked if he would wish to be made well. Long story short: the man was healed perfectly. John chapter five opened with this story because Christ was soon going to enter into a debate with the Jews on his deity and one of the proofs that our Lord would present to them was his extraordinary ability to work miracles. Nicodemus himself had alluded to this in John 3:2 when he said “… Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher comes from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him…” In other words: even the Jewish religious leaders knew that there was something divine about Christ because of the miracles he was doing. The first witness to the authenticity of Christ were the miracles he worked and this point must be made clear to Pentecostals of our time that the miracles of Jesus in the Bible are not a pointer to miracles working every day but a pointer to the divinity of Christ, and a clear message to the Jews to listen to what Jesus was teaching and believe him.

The next encounter Jesus would have with the Jews in this chapter will run from verses 15 to 30. Here Jesus enunciate the heart of his doctrines – it is surprising that despite the Jews’ intransigence towards our Lord, Christ told them who he was anyway. Jesus told the Jews that:

  1. Jesus will judge the world (verses 22,25,27,30)
  2. Jesus receives worship from men, just as they worship God (verse 23)
  3. If you will have eternal life, you must believe Jesus (verses 24,26)

In orthodox Jewish theology, only God can judge the world; only God must be worshipped; and only God can grant eternal life. Who does this man think he is? Again, their doubt was understandable – until you remember that Jesus did not say these things in a vacuum; he said them after he had worked scintillating miracles that even the religious leaders could not deny. When God sent Moses to the Jews in the book of Exodus, God accompanied Moses’s words with signs and wonders. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses said that God would raise a man that is similar to him, and he warned the Jews to listen to that man (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). The Jews were very expectant of the Messiah. From their deduction, they could tell that Christ was just about to arrive in their day. Yet, when our Lord came, they could not receive his messages because of their inherent prejudices. Some of their Rabbis had taught that like David, the Messiah was going to operate a political kingdom and remove them from the oppression of the Romans. They never for once understood that this aspect of the Messiah’s life would be future and not present. For now, the Messiah brought a message to the Jews and they were to listen to him first. What was that message?

The thrust of the Bible is that revelation from God was continually unveiling. When God met with Moses, he made it clear to him that when he revealed himself to the Patriarchs, he did not tell them about his name (Exodus 6:2-3). In other words, with Moses there was a newer revelation of God. And from Genesis to Malachi, God continues to reveal new aspects of himself to the Jews that were not contradicting his former self. So that when Jesus came with the New Covenant, this was a new revelation of some sort. The one true God came to the Jews, and showed them that he has a Son – Christ; and he has a Spirit – the Holy Spirit. Revealing himself as triune – three Persons in one God. And this revelation was not new; the Old Testament had continually alluded to the fact that there was divine plurality in the Godhead. That is why the Bible opens with the term “…let us…” (Genesis 1:1,26) and that is why the Psalms often referred a certain Son of God (Psalm 2:7,12, Hebrew 1) etc. If the Jews had not been blinded by prejudices, they would have seen Christ for who he is.

John chapter five concludes with Jesus then bringing his witnesses to the Jews. He presented four irrefutable points that prove his veracity. They are:

  1. John the Baptist
  2. The miracles
  3. God the Father
  4. Moses

Jesus Christ presents John the Baptist as his first witnesses in the court of judgement of the Jews. While John and Jesus had had similar ministries, the Jews were not offended by John as they were of Jesus. They recognized a certain grace with John, and even the Pharisees and Sadducees went to him to be baptised – confessing their sins to him. Perhaps God permitted it this way so that they could hear John say “…behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…” If the Jews really believed John, they would have believed Jesus also because John authenticated the ministry of Christ. But, I believe, they may only have enjoyed the religious aura around John, and as soon as John’s ministry ended, they moved back to their former ways of doing things. In verse 33, Jesus reminds the Jews that they sent to John and that John had approved of his ministry – yet they will not believe.

In verse 36, Jesus brings up his second witness. He said: “…I have a greater witness than John’s (witness); for the works which the Father has given me… the very works that I do – bear witness of me, that the Father has sent me…” Again, a simple historical comparison with Moses, would have opened the minds of the Jews to the veracity of Jesus. Moses also worked extraordinary miracles. These works, these miracles, were given to authenticate Christ’s ministry. And here the point need to be made to those who run around with “… Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and forever…” as proof of the fact that the same way Jesus worked miracles in first century Palestine, he would work it today. We see from this text that the aim of the miracles were to authenticate Christ’s ministry – not to perpetuate them throughout time. If the Jews will not believe in spite of the miracles, they would probably not believe anything else.

Then Jesus presents the witness of the Father. Here the discuss runs from verses 37 to 44. Jesus is saying essentially that God has also witnessed to the Jews about Jesus. God had spoken audibly to the Jews on a number of occasions (Matthew 3:16-17, 17:5-6; John 12:28-33). God had also given witness through the scripture (John 5:38-39). And, God had spoken to the Jews via Jesus’ extraordinary life (John 5:40-44).

Finally, Jesus present Moses to the Jews as his final witness (verses 45-47). Jesus calls the Jews to return to Moses and study him well – Moses wrote about him. And if you believe Moses, you will believe him too. In other words, if the spirit of scriptures possesses your heart, you will have discernment and you will be able to tell that I am true. Unfortunately, the Jews were blinded by prejudice and they could not see. A points can be taken from the witness of Moses. We should appreciate that Jesus presents the witness of Moses last and perhaps his strongest witness. I think he did this because Christ was exalting the powers of written scriptures. While the witness of the Father is true, they were largely subjective. But what is written cannot be disputed.

Since the controversy around Alistair Begg erupted in February, 2024, I have come to appreciate the concept of modern Phariseesm more and more. While sadly a lot of people felt insulted for being compared to Pharisees, I have come to the settled conviction that we religious people can very much be Pharisees. I also understand that the same way Jesus appeared to the Jews in first century Palestine, he is appearing to you and I today. One prayer I pray continually is that the Lord will grant me the spirit of scripture to discern the Lord when he comes. Today, just as with the Jews, we would either believe the Lord or we will crucify him. May God grant that we are of the former number. Amen.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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